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What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Harassment in California?

What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Harassment in California?


At Spodek Law Group, we understand how frightening and overwhelming it can be to face harassment charges in California. Whether you are the victim of harassment or have been accused of this offense, it’s crucial to understand the difference between civil and criminal harassment. With the help of our skilled attorneys, we can guide you through this challenging time and protect your rights.

Defining Harassment in California

In California, harassment is defined as unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and serves no legitimate purpose. This conduct must be such that it would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and actually causes substantial emotional distress to the victim.It’s important to note that harassment can take many forms, including:

  • Verbal harassment (e.g., threats, derogatory comments)
  • Physical harassment (e.g., assault, battery)
  • Visual harassment (e.g., lewd gestures, displaying offensive materials)
  • Sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors)
  • Cyberstalking and online harassment

Civil Harassment vs. Criminal Harassment

The key difference between civil harassment and criminal harassment lies in how the case is handled by the legal system. Civil harassment is treated as a private matter between the parties involved, while criminal harassment is considered a public offense that is prosecuted by the state.

Civil Harassment

In a civil harassment case, the victim (known as the “petitioner”) files a lawsuit against the alleged harasser (known as the “respondent”) seeking protection and/or damages. The burden of proof in a civil case is lower than in a criminal case – the petitioner must prove their case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it is more likely than not that the harassment occurred.If the court finds in favor of the petitioner, it may issue a civil harassment restraining order, which can include orders for the respondent to:

  • Stay away from the petitioner and their home, work, school, etc.
  • Have no contact with the petitioner (including by phone, email, or social media)
  • Move out of a shared residence
  • Pay damages to the petitioner for emotional distress, medical expenses, lost wages, etc.

Violating a civil harassment restraining order can result in civil or criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.

Criminal Harassment

Criminal harassment, also known as “stalking,” is prosecuted by the state and can result in more severe penalties than civil harassment. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is higher – the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.Under California Penal Code Section 646.9, stalking is defined as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another person and making a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family.Stalking is a “wobbler” offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. Penalties may include:

  • Misdemeanor: Up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000
  • Felony: 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000

In addition to these penalties, a conviction for stalking can have serious collateral consequences, such as difficulty finding employment, housing, or obtaining professional licenses.

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

Factors That Determine Whether Harassment is Civil or Criminal

Several factors can influence whether harassment is treated as a civil or criminal matter, including:

  1. The severity and nature of the conduct
  2. The relationship between the parties involved
  3. The presence of violence or credible threats of violence
  4. The perpetrator’s criminal history
  5. The victim’s preferences and cooperation with law enforcement

In some cases, harassment may be both a civil and criminal offense, and the victim may choose to pursue both types of legal action.

Protecting Your Rights in a Harassment Case

If you are facing harassment charges or have been the victim of harassment, it’s essential to work with an experienced attorney who can protect your rights and advocate for your best interests. At Spodek Law Group, our knowledgeable lawyers have a deep understanding of California’s complex harassment laws and can provide the skilled representation you need.

For Victims of Harassment

If you are a victim of harassment, our attorneys can help you:

  • Obtain a civil harassment restraining order to protect your safety and well-being
  • Gather evidence to support your case, such as witness statements, photos, or recordings
  • Pursue damages for the harm you have suffered, including emotional distress, medical expenses, and lost wages
  • Coordinate with law enforcement if criminal charges are filed against the perpetrator

We understand the emotional toll that harassment can take on victims and their loved ones. Our compassionate legal team will work tirelessly to hold the perpetrator accountable and help you move forward with your life.

For Those Accused of Harassment

If you have been accused of harassment, it’s crucial to take the allegations seriously and seek legal counsel immediately. Our skilled defense attorneys can:

  • Thoroughly investigate the allegations against you and gather evidence in your favor
  • Identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and develop a strong defense strategy
  • Negotiate with prosecutors to have charges reduced or dismissed, if possible
  • Zealously represent you in court and fight for the best possible outcome in your case

We believe that everyone deserves a strong defense, regardless of the charges against them. Our attorneys will work diligently to protect your rights, reputation, and freedom.

The Importance of Seeking Legal Help

Navigating a harassment case can be daunting, whether you are the victim or the accused. The legal system is complex, and the stakes are high – your safety, reputation, and future may be on the line. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced attorney by your side who can guide you through the process and fight for your rights.At Spodek Law Group, we have a proven track record of success in handling both civil and criminal harassment cases. Our attorneys have the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. We take a personalized approach to every case we handle, taking the time to listen to your story, understand your unique needs and goals, and develop a tailored legal strategy that fits your situation.


Harassment is a serious issue that can have devastating consequences for victims and their loved ones. If you are facing harassment charges or have been the victim of harassment, it’s essential to understand the difference between civil and criminal harassment and to seek experienced legal representation as soon as possible.At Spodek Law Group, we are here to help. Our skilled attorneys have extensive experience handling both civil and criminal harassment cases and can provide the strong advocacy you need during this challenging time. Contact us today at 212-300-5196 or visit our website at https://www.federallawyers.com to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help protect your rights and achieve justice in your case.

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